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Sex in Games: Representing and Desiring the Virtual

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No sooner is a visual medium invented than it is used for pornographic representation - videogames are no exception. This paper will chronicle the presence of pornographic imagery and depictions of sexual intercourse within videogames whilst attempting to examine the motivations for its inclusion and use. Unlike historical accounts of the stimulating effects of other art forms, such as mens’ arousal at the realism of Sansorino’s nude Venus, or Pliny’s account of a man’s infatuation with the sculpture of Aphrodite of Caridos, ‘graphic sex’ in videogames exist within a cyber-culture where a broad range of explicit and specialized pornographic materials are freely available on the world wide web. The existence of sex in videogames in a modern networked culture is therefore interpreted as an example of the increasing authenticity of digitally mediated experiences – or assemblages of the social and technological. It is argued that videogame aesthetics are contributing to a broader trend in the alteration of gender categories that allow for wider patterns of variation in erotic cultures. Although this paper will draw on representations that remain focused upon, and constructed around phallocentric fantasies and desires, it is the substance and nature of the object that fascinates as it shifts in significance and function. The paper chronicles how the articulation and presentation of sexual themes in videogames has altered with technological progress. This issue has relevance today with gamers’ now having the opportunity to experience interactive photo-realistic bodies performing sexual acts in videogames like Singles (Eidos) or Great Oyaji: The Acrobatics of Sex (Studio Kinky). Prior to videogames being rendered with increasing sophistication, sexual-conquest games like Leisure Suit Larry (Sierra Quest) and Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode (Vic Tokai) relied more on suggestion and humor, using sexual degradation and humiliation rather than physical representation. The inability to achieve photorealistic representation at the beginning of videogame history also produced ‘adult/erotic games’ that simply served as a conduit for presenting photographical pornographic material. Videogames designed for the Commodore 64 such as Cover Girl Strip Poker (Emotional Pictures), Curse of Ra (Trans X), Harry der Fensterputzer (Brilliant Software), Erotica (Cybertech) and Girltris (Reliance), use gameplay as a means of revealing static soft-porn imagery recycled from the sex industry itself. This technique has surprisingly survived the test of time in the 3-D adult-oriented virtual environment of Red Light World that simulates Amsterdam’s infamous district. A significant contribution to the increasing inclusion of adult themed content in videogames can be traced to the participatory cultures of gaming and the modding community who have pushed the demand for adult-oriented content with ‘nude patches’ for games like The Sims, extending its representational and experiential boundaries. By infiltrating gaming culture, the patch has contributed to the formation of new configurations of game characters, game spaces and game play (Schleiner, 1998). Nude patches used for Tomb Raider, Quake and Morrowind also illustrate gamers’ desire to de-robe virtual heroines and characters, raising the status of the act to something comparable to the tabloid exposure of celebrities. The validity of the ‘cyber-celebrity’ appears to be tied to increasing levels of digital and physical manipulation of the human body for presentation in male-culture publications, soft-core and hard-core pornography. ‘Fakers’ that superimpose celebrity heads on naked bodies, advertisers that use composites of several models and the general high levels of digital retouching in the media consistently erode the line between reality and artifice, contributing to the cyborgian nature of desires. Digital fabrication has contributed to the rise of, and infatuation with, virtual models (e.g. Webbie Tookey) and actresses (e.g. S1mOne) as well as game characters. In some of the cases, the interactive nature of the virtual often overshadows the real, as in the case of a patched Julie (Heavy Metal) who was originally based upon ‘Penthouse Pet’ Julie Strain and Lara Croft who has always existed as both virtual (Tomb Raider) and real forms (Natalie Cook, Rhona Mitra). Yet, it was the polygon pin-up version of Lara that made the front cover of Playboy Magazine and beat ‘real’ glamour models to top a poll for the woman men would most like to date (Game Stars Live)! With adult oriented games drawing heavily on the visual codes of pornography and sex industry economy (e.g. Playboy: The Mansion) the paper asks whether there is a cultural distinction to be made between sex in games and pornography in terms of cultural consumption? Is game sex aiming to elicit a physical response akin to pornography? Like advertising and propaganda, pornography is often characterized by a single intention to "move us in the direction of action" (Marcus, 1966) and gratification. Eidos the makers of Singles: flirt up your life, a reality simulation of single life that contains full-fontal nudity and sexual intercourse, argue that this is not the case: "I don’t really think someone is going to get the same feeling of attraction in seeing full frontal digital game character as they would from seeing that in an actor or actress". These comments fail to explain the rise in the number of games where game characters are not just presented as sexual objects, but are now sexually active and fully interactive. Playskins, a recent online anime noir role-playing game focused game-play around flirtation and foreplay with the object of achieving game-sex. However, games such as SomaVision and 3-D Slut Virtual Sex go even further as they are designed simply to fulfill a players’ desire to undress, fondle and have intercourse with 3-D rendered women. Thus, are ‘bodies without flesh’ achieving a representational or aesthetic status capable of evoking bodily intensities comparable to real-world encounters? Are 3-D pixel bodies able to directly hack into the central nervous system to actualize their virtual affects for erotic pleasure?
Contact: Gareth Schott, Department of Screen & Media Studies, University of,
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